Greetings from Anaheim, California where I have just been rolled out the door of the Natural Products Expo West after 4.5 hours of eating my way through the 5 rooms and a gajillion booths of convention. It was kinda the best day ever: not only did I get to meet the people who make the products that change my life, but I got to snack on said products and taste brand new ones! There was even a special surprise at the end. So here for you, is the highlight reel in photo blogeristic style (my apologies for the sub-par pics due to iPhone 3GS).
Part I: Cheeese Wars
Follow Your Heart
One of my first stops on the Expo Express was at Follow Your Heart, inconveniently out of snacks until my 4th visit. I finally got to taste their cheesecake, which was really yummy, their new line of vegan dressings (caesar!), and toasted cheezy bread. Yum.
I was excited to find the Daiya booth and try their new Pepperjack flavor in the form of a quesadilla slice. It’s definitely got a li’l kick! No softballs from this SuperVegan, I asked the Daiya representative why o why are their bags not re-sealable? He told me that 8 oz bags don’t need to be, cause it’s not enough product to warrant it. I disagreed. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually use a $5 bag of Daiya all at once. Then he gave me a story about a zipper being cost prohibitive. That the price of a seal that does the re is so exorbitant it’d make the resale price (even more) impossibly expensive. Hmm… I asked about slices or blocks in addition to shreds. If I want a grilled cheese, shreds are a messy, wasteful, pain, I explained. He said they aren’t working on that, but they are working on a version of their cheeses that are meant to eat cold. Weird. I also got to eat some pizza and a spoonful of mac ‘n’ cheese.
I was even more excited to come upon the Teese (Chicago SoyDairy) booth. I had heard tell they were offering samples of their mozzarella sticks and I heard right. Oh my holy wow. Not only were they delicious, but the CSD people are super cool. I chatted with Dan Reed, their marketing whiz, and told him about my tete a tete with Mr. Daiya. Their response: Hunh. OUR bags have a zipper! And lookee– they do! Hurrah! They said the zipper didn’t break their budget either, so something’s rotten in Canada, or wherever Daiya is made these days. Score one for Teese in the Vegan Cheese Wars. I also got to taste a marshmallow dandie, a slice of pizza, and a Dandie Tweet. How cute are these Peep alternatives? I promise you, they are so good they will blow your Eastery vegan minds.
Crystal Tate and her Vegan Queso is my favorite story of the day. Everyone was talking about her vegan nacho cheese sauce, and with good reason. It is insanely delicious, and I’m not just saying that because she gave me a whole jar to take home. Available in Spicy and Original (which still has kick), this creamy sauce is fat, soy, nut, dairy and cholesterol free. All mouth love aside, the rags to riches **she’s probably not rich yet** tale is adorable. Crystal, a young Texan lady with a Mexican heritage, started dating Chris, a vegan. She was not even vegetarian! They were young, they were in love, and they were broke. They pooled their money for food– $20/week. Crystal became a vegan and loved it, but missed some of her Mexican food stuffs. So, what does she do? She straps on an apron and invents it, of course! Voila, Vegan Queso is born. Chris and Crystal get married and their slogan? Food for lovers. Love it!
Part II: I Scream
When I finally made my through the crowd that had formed around the So Delicious booth (elbows out!) to the ice cream samples, I just assumed that the masses were of like-minded people, screaming for ice cream. I grabbed some samples (chocolate ice cream bar and butter pecan) when I noticed 6 or 7 policemen. Ok, what’s goin on? “It’s for a big loser.” Um, what? “One of the trainers from The Biggest Loser is here.” Ah, ok. I grabbed some coconut based blueberry greek yogurt and fled.
Coconut Bliss had a whole station set up where you could choose from about 8 flavors. It was a decision making moment I’m calling Andrea’s Choice. Brutal! I went with Ginger Cookie Caramel. How could that not be good?
I stumbled upon a booth called Soylato. They had two flavors– chocolate and berry. I went for chocolate (duh), was not expecting it to be good, and was happy to be totally wrong. This stuff was creamy, smooth and rich. Not gritty at all and a true chocolate taste. It’s brand new so I hope this stuff takes off!
Part III: Meet Your Meats
The world of Meatless Technologies continues to advance. I tasted science. I also made sure to give the Morningstar Farms booth a giant FU for putting egg whites in … everything.
These guys had some serious real estate. They set up a whole hot dog cart in their city block sized booth! I happened upon them at the beginning of my pilgrimage and wisely decided to skip it in favor of saving stomach space for new products. I never would’ve made it as far as I did if I had partaken, but my stomach’s heart shed a tear not to!
Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Seafood
I appreciate Vegan Seafood on a conceptual level– I was never a fan of real seafood, so I’m not so into the convincing replicas either, but boy they’re convincing, aren’t they?
May Wah by any other name
For those of us in NYC, May Wah is a prized retailer possession. If you’ve left NYC, it’s loss is poignant. Finally, an American company, VegeUSA, is importing those same Taiwanese meats, repackaging them in English boxes and selling them to Whole Foods shoppers! Citrus Spare Ribs for all!
Tofurky makes some of my favorite meat-like products. Have you tried their new Pepperoni? I wanted to grab a fistful of toothpicks, but I controlled myself and took one. I also tasted their frozen pizzas, but compared to the 4 others I tried, I gotta say, they have room for improvement. Check minus.
Gardein’s next product to hit shelves is their Ultimate Beefless Burger. By the time I tasted it my mouth was numb and my tum tum was angry, but it went down easy! There are a lot of veggie burgers out there, I’m not sure what makes this one the Ultimate but it definitely wasn’t bad. I’ve written about Gardein products before– their sauces kill their meats, but this one doesn’t succumb to that problem as it’s sauce free.The problem instead was the sample sliders were loaded with mustard so I couldn’t really tell you how the actual patty tasted. I think it was good, but I’ll have to give it a 2nd try to be sure. I also tasted their Chipotle Lime Crispy Fingers (minus the finger), my fav product in the Gardein line (also sauce free).
I’m glad to be able to tell you about a couple new Amy’s products that were quite good. Glad because that means I successfully waded through the mob of people in their booth and managed to secure myself some samples– quite an accomplishment, really. First, they too have a new burger– the Sonoma. I’m not gonna fib, I can’t recall how it tasted at all, except to say I remember liking it. Sorry, but in case you can’t tell from this mega-post, I got in a bit over my veg-head! I also tried their vegan burrito, which was just okay (to be fair, I grew up in Los Angeles; I’m a Mexican food snob) and their new vegan pizza! Thumbs up. Better than Tofurky, but also made with Daiya. It went fast. I also hunted down their marketing rep and made plans for some exciting SuperVegan contests– keep one eye out!
By the time I got to Asherah’s I was so full I hurt. (where is the vegan Tums booth?!) I was afraid one more sample would be the straw to break my stomach’s back. I couldn’t do it. But these looked good. Another new burger to try. Be forewarned, their website has bad music. Also, the trend seems to be that every new vegan product is also gluten free. Are all special needs eaters being lumped into the same category? I heart gluten.
I have been a vegetarian since 1991 and a vegan since 1999. Even though I’m old, I can still remember what it was like back in those days– the only meat substitutes that existed in my local market were Gardenburger (the original flavor only, with cheese in the patty) and SoyRizo. We have come a long way, people. That said, SoyRizo is still delicious, and El Burrito now has a line of great tasting products. Three of them are vegan (Soyrizo, SoyTaco and Soy Sausage) and I got to taste them in the form of a lovely plate of food prepared for me by this nice lady.
The show was almost over when I finally came across ecoVegan. They had run out of or packed up their samples. Has anyone tried it? They look like they might be good maybe.
Food For Life
In the utmost of irony, Food For Life’s booth was abandoned when I got there. No food for me & my life, apparently. And for full non-linear confusion, this happened at the beginning of my day (around 2pm)– it wasn’t even closing time. But I hear they have two new vegan products.: a burger (SHOCKER!) and chicken nuggets, called Moophrey and Cluckphrey, respectively. Here’s what the packaging looks like.
Part IV: Count Chocdrea
There must’ve been 100 (approx.) booths sampling organic chocolates, and if you can believe it, I abstained from almost all of them. I was on a mission– there was no time or inside space for them all! Here are the two stand-outs.
Justin’s claims to make the only vegan chocolate peanut butter cups. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what is true is that these were ridiculous. I want them in my life on a semi-regular basis. They also have a line of nut butters that reach illegal levels of goodness. Warning: another music heavy web site.
I can’t remember where, but I’ve tried these before. They are the most beautiful chocolates with the most interesting flavors. I tried each of the four vegan ones they had there (raspberry, strawberry, coconut and ancho chili caramel). The ancho chili caramel (with purple metallic dust) was my fav. If you’re looking to win the heart of a vegan, I recommend these. Each one is like a piece of edible cocoa art.
Part V: Special Mentions
WARNING: Super Hummus contains soy
I got a good laugh at the Nasoya booth, who felt obligated to post this warning sign at the sample table for their new Super Hummus, that is actually made from soy beans instead of chickpeas. I’d like to think they took inspirado from us for the name.
Appropriately named, this stuff was super. Thicker than regular hummus, and creamier, the spinach garlic flavor I tried was exceptional. One of my favorite things of the day. Who’da thought?
They also brought in the lovely ladies from Spork Foods to make some tofu scrambles!
Have you heard the rumor going around that Kettle Brand has made vegan Doritos? Well it’s true! The Salsa Picante flavor of Kettle Chips new Tia’s line taste remarkably like some old school Doritos. They gave me a whole big bag! Sorry, no sharing.
Ethical Bean Coffee
There were a bunch of coffee companies at the show, and I am an unabashed addict, but by far the best was from Vancouver, Canada and Ethical Bean. This was the fanciest, techiest, and yummiest jolt of caffeine ever. Even Oprah said so, apparently. O, Oprah. Each bag is fair-trade, organic, roasted in a carbon neutral facility and comes with a unique QR code. If you have an iPhone, you can download the Ethical Bean App and scan your bag. It will take you to a site created for your specific bag of beans. It’ll tell you all kinds of stuff like where your beans were grown, a snapshot of the person who roasted them, tips for brewing. I have no idea how much this coffee costs, but I do know you need to be caffeinated in order to comprehend all the data available about it.
Montage: Earth Balance has a new line of coconut based products coming out, including a margarine, a spread, and a mayo. There was some line of vegan dairy replacements I’d never heard of before called WayFare to be on the lookout for; none were available for the tastin’. (If Andrea actually read SuperVegan, she’d have heard of Wayfare when Rudy reviewed their spreads–Ed.). I tried a really delicious bavarian pretzel from Kim & Scott’s. There are a lot of new vegan Indian food products coming (curries, samosas, etc). And someone has made chips out of falafel.
I called it quits and made my way back to my friends at the VegNews booth only to discover (from the founder of Veggie Grill and his friend) that Fabio was downstairs in a booth, right by the Chicago SoyDairy. Whaaaaaaaaaat? My belly and I ran downstairs, with 5 minutes remaining, past the Teesers. “How could you not tell me Fabio was here?!” “You don’t want to take your picture with him, take one with me!”
I found the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter but it’s still dairy salesman, got an autographed 8×10 glossy and my shoulder dislocated (not really, but almost). He was there hawking his line of non-vegan protein powder– Healthy Planet Nutrition.
Then I doubled back to Mr. Teese March, who I got to pose the same way, for comparison and my upcoming Natural Mens Calendar 2012.
My evening ended at the Irvine Veggie Grill with the fine fine folks of VegNews Magazine, Allison from Allison’s Gourmet (I learned I must try her vegan mac & cheese recipe) and Chicago SoyDairy. Sadly, even thinking about more eating hurt at this point, so I had some strawberry lemonade and watched, knowing I was missing out on the deliciousness. The company was excellent though.
So there you have it, my Natural Products Expo West Triathalon of Snacking, Chatting, and Drinking. I didn’t have time for beverages (Acai, acai, acai! And 40 tons of coconut water), supplements, or personal products like cosmetics. Next year I will fast beforehand, wear a muumuu, bring an assistant and go twice. Any volunteers?